Over the course of fourteen years, James Hampton slowly and privately constructed what would prove to be his only major artistic work: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly. Hampton handcrafted The Throne from ‘found objects’: cardboard, plastic, discarded furniture, jelly jars and light bulbs, metallic foils, and purple paper (now faded to a light brown).
What might Hampton’s use of reclaimed and recycled ‘everyday’ objects help us see about Isaiah’s vision? How might ‘found art’ disclose a ‘found theology’: a theology of how the presence and glory of God is discovered in unfolding historical encounters (Quash 2013: xiv)? Much like the prophet Isaiah himself, these found objects, painfully ordinary, are taken up into a higher purpose, re-dressed, transformed, put to new work. The artist’s imagination and vision become like the seraph’s coal, both purifying and transforming the meaning and purpose of their objects.
The richness of Hampton’s vision lies precisely in the humility of its components; its humility is the source of its magnificence. Those who stand before it experience the glory of a God who humbles the proud and elevates and glorifies the humble. The collective components of The Throne, reworked by the artist, overwhelm the space in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, much like the robe of the LORD that fills the Temple in Isaiah’s vision (6:1).
Indeed, when The Throne was first discovered in that Washington DC garage, its glory exceeded the space, spilling out of its containment onto the sidewalk and the street, reminding us of Isaiah’s encounter with the glory of God which fills the entire earth (6:3).
The glory of God is ready to burst forth, finding and transforming ordinary people and common things. Hampton’s transforming vision raises the found to higher significance, similar to the way that Isaiah’s speech is not his own, but becomes a vessel for Yahweh’s voice. The found objects and the found prophet each offer up their own humble ‘Here I am—send me’.
Quash, Ben. 2013. Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit (London: Bloomsbury)
6 In the year that King Uzziʹah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven. 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
‘Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive.’
10Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without men,
and the land is utterly desolate,
12and the Lord removes men far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.